Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bigotry is not an American value

By Caroline Fan

Now more than ever, we need a rational and respectful dialogue about how to fix our country’s broken immigration system. But comments like Texas Representative Betty Brown’s recent assertion that legal Chinese American immigrants should adopt Anglophone names that are “easier for Americans to deal with” represents precisely the kind of divisive rhetoric that will keep us from such a levelheaded debate.

Brown’s callous suggestion that Chinese American citizens are not American is symptomatic of the veiled bigotry that underlies much of the immigration debate across the nation. It also begs the question of why state legislators across the country would want to associate with the organization that Brown helped found to propagate racially divisive policies.

Rep. Brown is a charter member of the anti-immigrant special interest group, State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI). SLLI promotes a range of anti-immigrant policies to rescind the rights of legal immigrants, all of which have the effect of promoting discrimination and separating immigrants from their communities. The group is a close ally of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR), having promoted their model legislation and conducted several joint press conferences. This is same FAIR that the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group.

With these policies and Brown’s incendiary comments in mind, legislators who want to have a rational debate over immigration should have second thoughts before continuing their support of the SLLI agenda.

Fortunately, there is ample reason to believe that many will do just that. While Brown’s statement is symptomatic of the ugliest sentiments underlying the immigration debate, our country as a whole is better than those sentiments. We are the proud inheritors of a tradition of respecting the freedoms of a diverse population.

Surely the freedom to name one’s child as one wishes is one that Americans should be dedicated to protecting. The fact that a large majority of Americans elected as President the son of an immigrant, a man with the ‘inconvenient’ name of Barack Obama, is a strong sign that Rep. Brown is out of touch.

If we are to resolve the immigration impasse, we need everyone at the table to engage in constructive, rational debate. Their repeated attempts to marginalize legal U.S. citizens, suggest that SLLI is not interested in such a debate. Brown’s remarks merely confirm that the group’s politics are not so much concerned with “legal” immigration as they are with pitting native-born and recently immigrated Americans against each other.

If the members of SLLI are serious about having a constructive debate about practical immigration reform, they should think seriously about the message Rep. Brown's remarks sends and reconsider whether they wish to be associated with a group that spreads such messages. A failure to do so will only betray the kind of intolerance that will move us backward rather than forward in solving one of the nation's most pressing problems.
Fan is a second generation Chinese American and the Immigration and Workers’ Rights Policy Specialist at Progressive States Network.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 4/09